Bursting through the Grey

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I met her on a Friday night, two weeks after she escaped winter’s end in Australia.  It was just after the late August sun descended into the swamp and the New Orleans sky morphed into the deepest indigo you could imagine…the time of evening when the very air changes and the sultry sets in.  Beth had already seen more of the States in those two weeks than I had seen in my half century.  She and her travel companion were working their way from the East Coast to the West Coast, stopping at strategic points along the way– mostly for the music.

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I thought nothing of it when she checked into Olivier House attired in bikini bottoms and tank top.  We were in New Orleans.  If you tend toward judgmental when you arrive, you probably won’t by the time you leave.  Or maybe that’s just my best-case-scenario, cup-half-full perspective.  It didn’t hurt one bit that I was in my favorite house in my favorite city feasting on all the nutrients vital to my soul.  And also, the delicious homemade Sour Cream Dill Potato Salad I was currently enjoying as I broke bread with one of my dearest friends right there in the parlor.

Beth took her old school brass key and headed to her two-bedroom suite just off the courtyard bursting with ferns and banana trees.

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She came back moments later, holding her wrist with pain in her eye…the kind of pain you can’t bear to see when you’re born to be a mom.

Sometimes I embarrass people.  I just do things that don’t make sense to them.   Usually things that have to do with people who appear to be strangers and yet they’re not.  They are kindred spirits of some sort and I’m not sure how I know this but I always do. 

I set down my plate, went to Beth, and took her wrist in my hand.

Are you a nurse? She whispered.

No, I answered.

Are you a mom?

Yes.

And that’s how this Oklahoma girl came to spend the next 8 hours of a sultry New Orleans summer night at Tulane Medical Center with the beautiful girl who escaped winter’s end in Australia in one of those quintessential, only-in-New-Orleans pieces of time.

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Isn’t it funny how love can be so instant and sweet and safe?  That’s how I felt with Beth.  We both have an intense love for music that, beyond a doubt, transcends the norm.  We love vintage fashion, décor, and red lips.  And Ginger Ale.  But this was bigger than all of that.

Two days later, we went our separate ways.  I went back home.  Beth continued her adventure toward the West Coast.  I thought of her everyday.  If I didn’t thrive on instinct poured with a heavy hand of discernment, I would never have had the joy of knowing her.  I never doubted I would see her again someday when that wrist, broken in 3 places, was a distant memory and I could give her a proper tour of the place I call my home-away-from-home.

It is summer now in Australia and winter here.  I could love winter with a passion if only the sun would break through that thick layer of grey.  Since I cannot escape it,  I give myself permission to indulge winter in ways that make it endurable.  Hot Chocolate spiked with Cinnamon & Ancho Chili…  Cioccolata Calda… or homemade French Vanilla Cream for morning coffee.

I was whisking the latter when there was a persistent knock on the door of yet another Friday.   On my front porch stood a man with beautiful flowers I was certain were for someone else– but they weren’t.  I opened the attached card…and there was Beth…all the way from summertime in Sydney…bursting through the grey of my winter sky and making me feel Christmas for the first time of the season.

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Dear Mark…

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Congratulations on your little girl.  I know a few things about daughters.  I know a little something about yours because for the last couple of years, I’ve had the privilege of hearing her call me “Momma”.
 
Your girl is unique.  I want to tell you about her because men are wired differently and sometimes get confused about reading people.  Or maybe I should say they get confused about reading females.  Consider this a head start–an advantage.
 
I’ll start with the worst.  Let’s just get that right out of the way.  She gives too much.  Of everything.  Of her time, of her money, of her sweetness.  For some amazing purpose,  God created her to be a nurturer.  He also created her with a high level of vulnerability.  He meant it to be her strength.  Other people twist it into a weakness.  She simply has not had anyone to guide her…to help her build a shield around that tender heart of hers. 
 
I think you will be great for this.
 
She’s often tempted to be over-generous.  This trait has led to trouble in the past.  She’s learning, though.  That’s one of the most awesome things about her…the way she really does learn from her mistakes.  Especially when she has someone to gently talk her through.  God created a self-less giver when He made your little girl so you might see this over-generosity arise on occasion.  Just let her know that there is a huge need in this ugly world for the kindness she has to offer but it is a thing she must learn to tame. 
 
She’ll listen.  She always does.
 
Someday you’ll see her with a different look in her eye… the joy-filled light you become accustomed to is replaced by something that looks “off” and somehow not “her”.  That particular look is panic.  For lack of anything positive, she might say to you  “…this is the worst day ever…”.  You’ll need a dose of patience because there is a trick to helping her not spiral into full-blown panic attack. 
 
When I analyze the reasons for her panic, I can usually track that trail back to a bully.  Your little girl’s tenderness and generosity make her an easy target for people whose lights are out in the left frontal lobe.  She’ll need you to increase her worth.  It is a simple fix.
 
A lot of people use meds to control panic attacks.  Your girl responds well to laughter therapy.  The trick is this:  you have to be a little bit of a dork.  There can be no shame in your dorkiness or it won’t work at all.  Figure out a stunt that makes her laugh and use this to reset her response to humanity.  You’ll see the beautiful light return to her eyes when she laughs…and you can then have a dialog and guide her through. 
 
Now for the good stuff…
 
Your little girl is one of the kindest souls I’ve ever known.  Her capacity to love is huge and larger than life.  I am in awe of these things when I consider how much guidance she’s lived without.  In the presence of nurture, she blossoms.  She loves people with no conditions.  The only thing that comes close to her love for people is her relationship with Dr. Pepper.
 
Among her favorite foods are barbeque ribs, brisket, potato salad, and vegetables of all kinds.  Her favorite cookies are No Bake Cookies…with good quality chocolate and Nutella along with the peanut butter.  This is a good indication that she will fit beautifully in the Deep South like a puzzle piece that was always meant to be.
 
Kind of like what you are to her.
 
You are going to love her.
 
I’m looking at the clock and I see it is about time for you to meet her face-to-face for the first time and it might almost be tempting for me to shed a tear like a big ball of mush…but I’m not going to play it like that.  I’m going to behave more traditional and kick-ass about this moment when Dads hold their girls for the first time.  I’m going to smoke a cigar.  A delicious, fragrant vanilla clove cigar…and I will celebrate the gift walking into your world today.
 
Congratulations on your 28 year old bundle of joy.
 
Dawn

Enough Already

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In memory of Amanda Todd, a girl I never knew…whose loss I grieve.

In honor of my dance partner, Raymond Wall, born to make music…whom I’ll never forget.

 For “Targets” everywhere…who suffer in silence.

Few are the giants of the soul who actually feel that the human race is their family circle.

~Freya Stark, explorer and writer

It isn’t about you.  Please hear me.

Some people just feel taller standing on the backs of others.

What feels so devastating to you in the moment is nothing but a mindless sport to your opponent.  It has everything to do with them—hungering for a sense of power that they are unable to feel on their own.

Their conduct has everything to do with choice.

Most people think of bullies as the schoolyard variety.  They assume that adults leave childish behaviors behind.  We don’t think much about adult bullies unless we find ourselves –or someone dear– on the receiving end of their self-loathing.

Adult Bully.  It sounds like a contradiction of terms.  It pretty much is.  Adult is usually equated with the word mature and there is nothing mature about a bully of any age.  So what do you call a grown-ass person who has chosen to bully?  When I pick word meanings apart, the best I can come up with is full grown bully.

I never knew what it felt like to be the target of a bully.  Not until I was in my 30’s.  I don’t speak of it often.  But for now, I will.

Someone out there needs a kindred spirit.  I feel it in my bones.

Forget, for a minute, about wife-beaters, faded jeans and the requisite can of Bud.  Most attacks at this stage of the game won’t be physical.  They are verbal.  Psychological.

The sense of power derived is short lived because a pseudo power never yields long-term satisfaction…but it is the best they’ve felt about themselves in God knows how long, so they pounce when opportunity presents itself again with the anticipation of a tweeker looking for the next high.

Maybe your full grown bully has the appearance of someone who feels good about themselves, dons the immaculate head-to-toe white collar ensemble… but has an unshakeable narcissism that seems to require putting others down.

Full grown bullies often get paid well for putting others down.  They are celebrated for it.

Maybe your bully is one whose greatest advantage is their subtlety…so skilled at what they do it would be damn near impossible to prove or document.  They are passive-aggressive in their delivery.  Backhanded.  Usually female.

But the truth is that people do see.

Some of those people fall right in and become drones.  A vehicle with no pilot.  Chances are that they’d never dream of initiating such behavior, but they notice.  Maybe you’ve never been anything but kind to this person—never hurt them nor offended them– but at some point, they choose to side with the one they perceive to be the most powerful.  Isn’t it sad how people mistake kindness for weakness?  Secondary bullies are concerned more than anything–with protecting themselves. 

The others who see?  This is the silent majority.  By choice, they provide the world with a never-ending supply of passive bystanders.  They give their unspoken consent by saying…nothing.  For this reason, more than any other, bullying has become an ongoing, ever-increasing, socially acceptable behavior.

When a schoolyard/ mean girl bully becomes a full grown bully, there really isn’t anything you can do other than to ignore them or avoid them.  They have no interest in working things out.  They have no interest in compromise.  Their primary interest is power and domination; to feel important and preferred.  They accomplish this by bringing others down.  It is what they do best.

Of all the awesome things in this world to do well…growing beautiful gardens, feeding people delicious meals, constructing impressive buildings, re-vamping a worn-out community,  making music, being the best parent you can be, making someone’s day a little sweeter…they choose, instead, to destroy.

With intention, they set out to inflict pain.  They diminish, ignore, humiliate, and render their chosen target insignificant.

But you are not insignificant anymore than they are powerful.

Their psychological shortcomings have absolutely nothing to do with you.

Here’s the thing: You have to save yourself.  Even in a world filled with people standing by, the giants of the soul are out there lifting cars off of people with their bare hands.  Those are the super-heroes of the world and when just one of those super-heroes jumps into action, others follow, never doubting for a second that they can lift 5000 pounds of dead weight off of their fellow human trapped underneath.  And they do.

The passive bystanders are in a big sandbox somewhere with their feet poking out, pitifully safe.  Not a place you’d ever want to find yourself trapped underneath a vehicle.  Not a place you’d ever want to be when you are the chosen target of a bully.

If you are lucky, like me, you can walk away.  I wasn’t bullied in school or the workplace.  My situation was in a setting where I had complete freedom to walk away.  So after a decade, I did.  My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.  There was so much sweetness waiting on the other side.  Divine appointments, people who needed what I had to offer, and still others who were there to heal my soul.

On the other side were the super-heroes.  Kind-hearted people who make waking each day a joy.

I love waking up.  With each new sunrise, God delivers two offerings without fail and tucks them right underneath my pillow: brand new mercies and the gift of free will.  What we do with those gifts for the rest of the day…is up to us.

We get to choose.

And that, right there…is enough to make me want to wear a cape.

Stay with me.  Let’s fly.

 There is something beautiful about all scars of whatever nature. A scar means the hurt is over, the wound is closed and healed, done with.

~Harry Crews, novelist and playwright

Beyond Jazz

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You’ve got to have something to eat and a little love in your life before you can hold still for any damn body’s sermon on how to behave.

~Billie Holiday, words of wisdom.

I have an awesome friend named Michael.  We’ve never shared a bad meal.  From Jacques Imo’s to Liuzza’s gumbo–Port of Call burgers to ham sandwiches on the front porch in the ruins of Katrina–everything in life is delicious when you’re in the company of friends who love you.

It isn’t just about the food.  Friends like Michael instinctively seem to know what you need.   I don’t know if we’ve shared more meals or listened to more music together over the years and it doesn’t matter.  I require both to sustain me.  Throw in a good ratio of moisture to air and I thrive.

Friends like Michael keep you in line and don’t let you get by with any sort of nonsense but mostly, they feed your soul.

And that’s how Bry and I came to enjoy a sold-out performance of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band less than a week ago, kicking off Oklahoma City University’s Distinguished Artist Series which coincided with the release of Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s live recording of its 2012 Carnegie Hall Concert in celebration of the band’s 50th year.

You see, Michael isn’t just a good friend to me.  He is extraordinarily good to all of his friends.  One of those friends just happens to play the tenor sax and sing vocals as part of the younger generation of musicians who blend so beautifully with their well-seasoned sources of inspiration.  Together they are guardians of culture, keeping the legendary sound of traditional New Orleans Jazz not only alive, but in a continuous state of evolution.  Michael’s friend graciously put my name on an envelope with tickets enclosed– more than I anticipated—so I was able to share the joy.

For me, a little fix goes a long way.  Now I can sit still and focus on the behaving part.

On Monday, September 24th, Preservation Hall will host a special performance at 8 p.m. to celebrate the release of St. Peter and 57th St. and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band 50th Anniversary Collection. Proceeds from this concert will go to Preservation Hall Outreach Program.

If you are anywhere in the vicinity, GO.  If you can’t be there, you can find ordering information here.

In the meantime, here is something to make you smile.  I fell in love with this video years ago and you will, too…if you are anything at all like me.  Close your eyes and imagine a place where the best friends in life need no explanation for your addiction to subtropical air; where dancing is the rule rather than the exception; where a Fiorella’s delivery guy can stop along his route and walk right into the legendary Preservation Hall to play a song or two with the greatest jazz musicians on earth—because luck is for people in Ohio.  It’s magic that happens here.

Thank you, Michael and Clint…for making the week magical.

If I worked for Southwest Airlines…

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…I would be celebrating Uncle Lionel’s effervescence…right in the midst of the spectacular Second Line to be held in his honor this evening.

Words escape me when I try to define Uncle Lionel, who used his big bass drum as a floatation device when the levees broke in 2005.

Beautiful Ambassador comes to mind, as seen in this Pearl Jam video, so completely worth watching: http://vimeo.com/19421235

Or the story about how that life-saving bass drum was stolen one night as told in Varmint, written by Charlotte, one of my favorite New Orleans poets.

Even though words escape me,  I think this simple quote does justice to the man who was such a beautiful ambassador for the city that stole my heart 33 years ago:

“Inside Uncle Lionel’s bass drum is the pulse of the city.” ~Drummer, Herman LeBeaux

When I grow up, I want to be just like Uncle Lionel, who danced through this life with a big bass drum (or a sassy umbrella) and offered kindness every chance he got.

A beautiful tribute to Uncle Lionel Batiste, written by The Accidental Cajun.

The Accidental Cajun

We had walked about twenty steps up Royal Street, just past Marigny Brasserie, when the elephant tear raindrops started to fall in big splats on the sidewalk.  We futilely tried to open umbrellas, but it was no use — as if someone pulled the drain plug from the bottom of a cloud — and the sky started sheeting on us.  Our proximity to each other only made it worse, as the rainwater sluiced off the other’s umbrella, drenching and unusually cold for a New Orleans summer:  we needed cover.  As we tried to duck out of the deluge, a familiar figure ran past and told us to come back to Frenchman at 8PM — something was going down for Uncle Lionel.  We parted ways at the corner where Royal turns back towards the Quarter, seeking shelter in the R Bar as our friend disappeared into one of the neat shotguns…

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Richard Avedon Exhibition

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This is my dear friend Lyle’s family.  This awesome family photograph, taken on May 3, 1970, graces both the billboard and the catalog cover of an exhibition honoring legendary photographer, Richard Avedon, at the Gagosian Gallery in New York.  The exhibition opened on May 4th and will continue through July 6, 2012.

You can read the press release here.

Dear Friend…

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You know that game shrinks play when they show their patients pictures of objects and ask them to say the first word that comes to mind?  My son played that game with me on April 19th.  Only he didn’t show me a photo…he mentioned your name.

Kind.  Very kind.  The answer came quick and easy.  But your name doesn’t bring to mind one word.  One word isn’t enough.

Pure-hearted.  Sincerely good.  Everyday.

That is what I remember most about you.

It seems after all these years, you’ve left the same impression on my son.  While your paths crossed,  I never knew.  Professionally for the both of you.  And that time you pulled him over not so long ago while he was driving that old blue geo metro that looked as though it would fall apart right then and there.

Thank you for all you do…for being discerning.  In a world filled with muddied agendas, I appreciate that quality in humans more than words can say.  Especially in your line of work.

May God surround you with His favor like a shield.  I pray that you will be enveloped by His love and comfort and peace.  Each morning when you rise to new mercies, I pray you remember that your counselor and defender neither slumbers nor sleeps.

In righteousness you will be established: Tyranny will be far from you; you will have nothing to fear.  Terror will be far removed; it will not come near you.

If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing; whoever attacks you will surrender to you.

See, it is I who created the blacksmith who fans the coals into flame and forges a weapon fit for its work.  And it is I who created the destroyer to wreak havoc;

No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the Lord.

~Isaiah 54: 14-17